Ireland's fixation with store cattle does nothing for saleable yields
A farmer from Northern Ireland asked a Southern counterpart about getting value in stores.
"Well, we have Arnotts and Clerys, and ... "
"I'm talking store cattle not shops, you clown," interrupted the frustrated Northerner.
Irish store cattle have always been in demand. Back in the 1880s when German leader Bismarck visited Ireland he suggested that the ideal farming activity for Ireland was to produce store cattle for finishing in mainland Europe. And this was the reality until Irish slaughter plants came into being from the 1950s.
The essence of a store animal is that it passes through a period of sub-optimal feeding or even feed depravation during which it grows frame at the expense of fat and muscle. When it returns to full ration extra compensatory growth is achieved.
In spring the beef finishers look out for the outlier that weighs poorly for its size. This beast will motor on when the feed brakes are taken off. Relatively cheap beef gain is achieved off grass. In contrast the hothouse animal that has been stuffed with meal over the winter can actually lose weight when it goes to grass and take four to six weeks before it regains its turnout weight.
But is the quality of Irish beef suffering because of our attachment to storing cattle? Will cattle that have endured a lot of storing time lose out under the new price grid known as the Quality Payment System? And, especially, is the growing practice of store feeding young bulls doing harm to the image and quality of Irish beef?
Butchers prefer the meat quality of an animal that hasn't endured a setback or prolonged depravation: the growth interruption can lead to a strip of grizzle especially in the sirloin and rib cuts.